The Silence

silenceKeriLynn

In my Bible between the Old and New Testament is one single sheet of tissue-thin blank paper. One page. I can flip past it in the blink of an eye, which is deceptive, because that single sheet of empty paper represents 400 years of silence. 400 years of wondering. 400 years of questions.

Will rescue come?

Will love come down?

Will God ever speak again?

Silent years are hard years. Silence can drive a person mad. Laugh with me, cry with me, correct me and even yell at me, but don’t give me the silent treatment. I can’t handle that.

But that’s exactly what God gave to the Israelites; silence. For 400 years.

I wish we knew what they did in the waiting. How they processed the ceasing of His voice and instruction. Did they grieve? Did they jump through hoops trying to make Him talk? Did the blame themselves? Blame God? Draw closer to Him or shrink away? We don’t know. All we have is a blank sheet of paper filled with silence.

I wonder how many years passed before they began to believe that maybe He would never speak again. Did they quit straining to hear his voice? Did they sit around and talk about what it would be like to hear Him again? Did they place bets on how it would happen; through a prophet or a burning bush or a talking donkey or a thunderous sky? Did they look for Him in all the obvious places? And then start looking for Him in the obscure?

Did they expect a baby and a teenage girl and a carpenter would be the vessel that carried the Word of God into the silent world?

Did they ever expect for love to come down to them?

We’re often told when we can’t hear God to press in, to push through, to pray harder, read more, to seek and knock until we wear ourselves out with the seeking. And I do believe that there are seasons when that is exactly what we need to do. But sometimes, in seasons of silence, maybe what we need to do most of all is simply wait. To quiet our hearts, and still our striving, and hope beyond reason that the gospel is true and that the silent God is also a loving God who is willing to come to us in the dark quiet places and wrap arms of love around us… right where we are.

The story of Christmas isn’t that we chose to come to God, but that God chose to come to us.

And so maybe today, in our own maddening silence, in our own place of questioning and wondering and waiting… maybe today we can stop. Stop striving and begging and chasing after god. Stop thinking that we’re doing everything wrong, and just rest in the reality that a blank piece of paper and 400 years of silence is part of the Bible too, and that our seasons of silence might be part of the story that God is writing in us as well. Maybe instead of filling the silence we can just be here and hope beyond reason that at the right time and in the right way love will come down and rescue us.

~Keri

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Peter Cave Road

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My car was packed and loaded with teenagers, suitcases, snacks, and one mom who was so beyond ready to get out of town and head to a cabin in the woods for a few days. We were making good time with the cruise control set on 65 and gorgeous scenery rolling by outside of the windows. In just a few short hours we would be at the cabin where there would be no work, no agenda, no schedule. Just days filled with fun.

Then we turned down Peter Cave Road.

Y’all, never in my life have I experience a road like this one, and I grew up in the country. I’ve seen my fair share of treacherous dirt roads, but none of them had prepared me for this. I should have known we were in for a ride when I saw the sign on the side of the road “dangerous road ahead, 4 wheel drive recommended”. I hesitated when I saw the sign, but my GPS told me to turn left, so I did.

I had no idea what we were getting into.

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Five miles. Five miles of dirt road stood between us and the cabin. I know dirt roads well enough to know that five miles might take about 20 minutes, but not this dirt road. This road and these five miles took us over an hour. Several times we came to a complete stop before proceeding. Once we had to get out and move a tree limb out of our way. Every muscle in my body was tense as we headed uphill and then downhill with hairpin turns, steep drop offs, and pot holes like you’ve never seen before.

My daughter was holding my phone and counting down the tenths of a mile as we climbed our way up the mountain. Every tenth of a mile was celebrated as if we’d traveled a hundred miles. I began to wonder if we would ever make it.

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Over an hour later we did. When we pulled into the drive way and saw the cabin the car erupted in celebration. I’ve never wanted to kiss the ground before, but I did in that moment. We had done it, we survived.

The next morning I woke up early and quietly left the cabin to go sit on the porch and watch the sun rise over the Buffalo River. I kept thinking about that car ride and our harrowing adventure. The worst part was; we didn’t have to spend an hour of our lives on Peter Cave Road. My GPS chose for us to go down a road we didn’t have to. If we had only traveled a few miles further down the highway there was another road that would have brought us to the cabin without all the drama.

Isn’t life like that sometimes?

Sometimes we find ourselves traveling down a road we never would have chosen for ourselves. A road so long and treacherous that we wonder if it will ever end. A road that keeps us tense, single minded, and desperate. A road that is so slow going and unending that we begin to question everything. “How much longer?” “Will this ever end?” “Are we lost?” “Should we go back?” “Will we survive this?” “How did we get here?”

I learned a few things driving up Peter Cave Road that I think might be important to remember when life leads us down a dangerous road.

Sometimes experiencing Peter Cave Road is not your fault. The good news about our adventure is that it wasn’t my fault. I’ve made a lot of wrong turns in my life (both in the car and in my choices) but this wasn’t one of them. This time I was following directions. Peter Cave Road was chosen for me by my GPS. I don’t know why God sometimes choses for us to take the long, hard way to arrive at our destination, but He often does. It’s not because we did something wrong, it’s not because we are being punished, it’s not because we are too stupid to read a map, it’s because that’s the road He put us on. Is there a reason? Sure. Will we know the reason before the road ends? Maybe, maybe not. Sorry. I could lie and tell you some deep spiritual thing will only happen to you on that road. That might be true. But we also might wind up standing in His presence one day asking Him; “So, Peter Cave Road. What was that all about?”

Time and distance is relative. We started our road trip on Interstate 49 and ended it on Peter Cave Road. Our trip started with the cruise control set and us covering about 65 miles an hour. It ended with me riding the brake and us going 2-5 miles per hour. A mile is a mile, but road conditions very much affect how long that mile takes to travel. The harder the road, the longer it takes. Slow going is still going. Even when it feels like you’re getting nowhere, you are.

Don’t abandon ship. Multiple times during our adventure on Peter Cave road someone would pipe up with “It would be faster to get out and walk.” It sure felt like that was true. As tempting as it was to abandon ship and head out on our own I knew that as slow as the car was it was still a better option to stay in it. I know my own strength; I can’t walk 5 miles carrying all of our luggage up Peter Cave Road. Well, maybe I could, but I promise I wouldn’t have arrived at the cabin before dark, and being in those woods after dark doesn’t sound like much fun. As slow as the car was, it was our only hope. Colossians 3 says we are hiding with Christ in God. When the road is hard, stay hidden in God. Yes, it’s tempting to throw in the towel and go it alone, but we won’t get very far on our own strength.

Eyes forward. Peter Cave Road isn’t a smooth road. Bumpy would be a drastic understatement. Then there were the pot holes, washed out culverts, muddy holes, tree limbs, big rocks, and many other obstacles. Off the road there was beauty. Lush trees, mountain views, wildflowers, pretty birds, but I didn’t see any of it. I simply couldn’t pay attention to the things around me because I was so focused on the things in front of me. In life, when we are in a season of traveling a hard road it often comes with guilt. We want to focus on other stuff, we want to talk about other stuff, we want to see the beauty, but sometimes we just can’t. Sometimes all we can do is keep our eyes forward. That’s okay.

The best way out is always through. Any chance I can get to quote Robert Frost I’m going to take it, but on Peter Cave Road and in life he’s right. Stuck on the dirt road we kept looking for options; is there another road we can take? Would it be better to turn around and go back the way we came? Is there a quicker, easier route? I wanted to avoid the road, but we couldn’t. We had to keep going (as slow as it was) forward. Sometimes hard roads and the pain they bring can’t be avoided, when we have to travel one the best way out is always through.

Adventure comes at the end. On the way home from our time in the woods (using the alternate, safer route) I asked the kids what their favorite parts of the trip was. Every one of them said Peter Cave Road. They went on and on about how awesome our car was to get us up that big hill, and how scary it was when we had to drive through the river (seriously y’all it was an epic adventure) and how narrow it was in that one place where the trees were pressing in on both sides and how dark it was it the woods even though it was the middle of the day and how we made it out alive! It was an adventure. One we will talk about for years to come; the story of Peter Cave Road and how we made it out alive. There is something in us that loves to celebrate stories of survival; our Feast of Purim. The Jewish celebration of the Feast of Purim was a joyous celebration commemorating a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved by Queen Ester of extermination. They survived, the lived to tell about it, and they remembered and celebrated God’s deliverance. We need to tell our adventure stories and celebrate God’s faithfulness through the hardest roads.

At the beginning of our trip one of the kids was in the backseat singing “Life is a highway…” That’s not true. Life is not a highway. Life is a long road. Yes, parts of it are smooth and straight and sunny and fun, but other parts are bumpy and uphill and dark and dangerous. Whatever road God asks us to travel one thing remains the same; He can be trusted to get us to our destination.

Hang on for the ride!

~Keri

Suddenly

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Spring is finally starting to spring up around here. I love the winter, and snow is my favorite, but even I am ready for warmer days and signs of new life.

Growing up in the nursery business gave me a profound love for the smell of freshly turned dirt and peat moss, and after a crazy few weeks of working more hours than I can count I decided I was in need of therapy of the dirty kind, so I headed to my flower beds with a trowel, shears and a garbage sack.

Step one in insuring pretty flowers throughout the spring and summer is a good spring clean-up in your flower beds. I’m normally not one that likes prep work. I do my best to skip as many steps as possible so I can get right to the fun part of the project (Thus the spots of paint on all the trim in my house. Seriously, who has time to tape and cut in?). But cleaning my flower beds this year was different. I found myself slowing down as I pulled weeds and cut back dead winter branches.

As I sat and looked around me I noticed that my flower beds looked a lot like I felt. Pretty ugly. Dry. Barren. A scraggly mess. I was so ready to be done with the dreary winter look… in my heart and my front yard. So I pulled weeds, pruned vines, chopped off the old dead ornamental grass. Leaving my Jack Frost babies for last…

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Ugly isn’t it? Prickly too. A million invisible thorns live on those branches. I know, I should get some gardening gloves, but then you can’t feel the dirt, and that’s just not acceptable. I’d rather face the prickly plants.

I love Jack Frost. In the spring and summer it makes me so happy to see its pretty leaves and dainty blue flowers. I have two that live right by my front door and I adore them. Even after they quit blooming they stay vibrant green up until it gets really cold. Then they turn into the ugly thing above. All winter I’ve been tempted to rip up that unsightly tumbleweed of a dead plant, but I know better. You see, under that ugliness is a chance for me to have pretty flowers again this spring… if they survive the winter. And I know that ugly dead thing is protecting the potential for new life.

But yesterday… Yesterday it was time!

It came up easily, with just a slight tug the branches let go of the soil and revealed the most beautiful sight beneath: new life!

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And there it is! Where there was once only dead, ugly branches suddenly there is new life. If you would have walked by my flower gardens last week you probably would have never guessed that such a beautiful sight lay hidden under such a lifeless thing. But it did. I was there all along. Sleeping, then waking and growing; waiting for the right moment to peak its little head out and soak up the warm spring sun. Waiting for me to come along and pull up all the dead things.

Can I ask you a question? Do you sometimes feel like there’s nothing happening in your life? Like everything in you is dried up and lifeless? Like everything is perpetual winter with no sign of spring? Do you keep walking by the same thing in your heart wondering if anything but ugliness will ever live there? Have you asked God if He even hears you at all? If He’s doing anything or if He’s just forgotten about you?  I have. Sometimes we just can’t see what’s taking place underneath it all.

See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isa. 43:19

 

Do you not perceive it? Sometime the answer is no. No, God I don’t see. I don’t see what You’re doing. I don’t see growth or change or answers. Everything looks the same to me. Then suddenly He pulls back the veil and gives us a glimpse of the glory. Suddenly a light pierces the darkness and we see that He was there all along. Working on us. Growing in us. Planting and preparing us for a new season. For new life.

Master Gardner, Author of seasons, today would You give us eyes to see? Would You pull back the lifelessness of the winter places of our souls and reveal glorious life spring up in us? Remove the tumbleweeds of our hearts. Show us that You’ve been at work all along, even in the ugly things. Let spring burst forth in our hearts and spirits. Help us to grow strong in You.

~Keri

 

Jesus is Better

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I’m learning that it’s a lot easier to believe something with your mind than with your heart.

For example, if you’re a single woman on Valentine’s week it’s really hard to make your heart believe that Jesus is better than any earthly man you could ever meet or fall in love with. At least that’s what my friend, Ramona, and I concluded this past Saturday night over a very long dinner.

Don’t worry, we’re fully convinced that Jesus is actually better… in our minds. We know logically that no one could ever come close to loving us, providing for us, or protecting us like He does. We say (and mean it) that if God never sends a man our way that we’re still blessed beyond belief and so incredibly happy with this life we have. And yet… we lay awake some nights thinking it sure would be nice to have someone to hold me. 

And there is the struggle… To figure out how to make the heart believe what the mind knows beyond doubt.

We wrestled with it for almost 2 hours at dinner then made our way to church. We had joked about going to go look for guys, but neither of us felt up for it; and we both knew our hearts could probably use a good dose of worship in His presence more than they could use a hunting expedition at Cabela’s or Best Buy (that is where single men hang out on Saturday nights right?)

We were a few minutes late to service so we quietly slipped in the back; and as we did the congregation started singing:

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe
Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe

And there it was; the wrestle.

Over and over again we sang it… First a declaration: Jesus is better. Followed by a cry for help: make my heart believe.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”   Psalm 73:26

Do I know Jesus is better? Sure. Do I wrestle with this knowledge? You better believe it. My flesh is weak. My heart fails. But God is the one who strengthens my heart. He is the only one who has the power to transform my head knowledge to heart knowledge.

Maybe you don’t know the wrestle of singleness. Maybe your wrestle is health, or job loss, or family dysfunction, or infertility, or the death of someone you love. Whatever the wrestle, whatever the longing, Jesus is better.

Lord, make our hearts believe!

~Keri

 

The Beautiful Struggle

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We walked through the dark valley together, Jesus and I. It was the hardest two years of my life, the two years after my husband decided he didn’t want to be married anymore. The two years when nothing was stable except the Rock of Christ Jesus.

Through the darkness, through the depression, through the questioning and the confusion there was Christ, always Christ, always near; tangible.

My life tends to be an open book, one of the consequences of working in radio. I can only share what I know, and for most of my life that hasn’t been a problem. As I’ve grown and matured I’ve better learned how and when I should share. I’ve learned that not every detail has to be shared in order for a story to be effective (although I still love details and often have to reel myself back in). When I was a young girl of 15 and very new in my walk with Christ I asked Him to use my pain. I honestly didn’t know at the time what I was praying, but I knew it was a life defining prayer, “God, whatever I have to walk through, please just use it to help others.”

That prayer has chased me in the decades since it left my mouth. There’s been times I’ve whispered, “I know I said whatever, but maybe not this?” And always there was a reckoning between Jesus and I and a decision made to share even “this” (and there have been many “this”es in the last couple of decades).

I even tried to be as transparent as I could in the season of my divorce, while still honoring other people who were tangled up in my story and giving myself much needed room to protect my heart and keep sacred things secret. I honestly never thought I’d be able to bring myself to utter the word “divorced” much less write or talk about it. Yet, here I am.

After coming to a decision to let God use the divorce “this”, I thought I had reached a new milestone. Surely nothing else that could ever come into my life would be as hard to go public with than the death of my marriage.

I was wrong.

It’s been over a month since I last posted a blog update. And before that post another long gap of time passed between posts. Why? Because I don’t want to write about where I am in life right now. I don’t want you to know. Why? Mostly because I haven’t figured it out yet. I tend to try to wait until I’m on the limping-but-victorious side of the wrestle before laying myself bare. Today I’m still in the wrestle. Today I’m still struggling. Today I’m still asking hard questions. And it’s hard to admit our struggles when we’re stuck in the middle of them.

I’m tempted to remain quiet here in this frustrating place. But I can’t. Why? Because of my brave friend Amber’s words, “I have tended toward self-preservation and hiding, and I have felt that I have had little to offer.”

That’s exactly where I am right now. Self-preservation and hiding with little to offer. But isn’t that exactly where God usually shows up to perform a miracle? And, seriously, I could use a miracle about now.

Because, you see, I’ve lost Jesus.

I know, I know, I haven’t really lost Him. How can the omnipresent one who came to dwell, Emmanuel, be lost? He is here, in the midst of this wrestling place. Only I can’t see Him. Can’t feel Him or hear His voice either. The only thing I can find is the space He once filled, the void of His absence.

I’ve been tempted to fake it a lot lately. To act like things are “just fine thank you”. But I’m having a hard time mustering up the strength to do the whole good-Christian-girl thing, where nothing is ever a struggle. The truth is; it’s all a struggle right now. Prayer. Bible. Worship. It’s a struggle.

The funny thing is, I don’t at all feel hopeless or desperate. I’m strangely accepting of this questioning place. Not content, mind you, but accepting. I can’t help but think that God is growing my roots deep in this wrestling place. Normally, when I feel distant from God I have an overwhelming urge to figure out what’s wrong and fix it immediately. I don’t feel that this time. I feel a resting, a waiting, and an assurance that Jesus and I are okay, even if we don’t feel particularly tight at the moment.

I know what it is to be carried by Jesus. I know what it feels like to have Him bend low and gently bind up my broken-heart wounds. I struggle with knowing how to walk with Jesus in the common everyday mundane of life. I can feel Him when the days are dark and hard, I can’t seem to find Him when the days are sunny and calm. And that is what my heart longs for. Not only to be carried through crisis by Christ, but to also learn to walk beside Him. To be led by Him through dark valleys and green pastures. To walk with Him through raging seas and still waters. To be so aware of His presence in every moment that He can’t ever be lost.

That’s the struggle. Seeking Jesus here. Seeking something genuine and real and sustaining. So, the wrestle continues. I’m not letting go. Not giving up. I’m hanging on and waiting.

~Keri

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Empty Chairs

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“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables…”

Les Miserable

For three Christmases now there has been an empty chair at my table. That chair sits empty the other 365 days a year, but at Christmas time it’s glaringly obvious that it’s vacant; that my family is incomplete.

The Christmas movies, and carols and commercials tell us how Christmas is supposed to look. Tables filled with food and family. Trees covered in tinsel and lights. Presents perfectly wrapped and ribboned. Not empty chairs, or unlit trees, or presentless Christmas mornings.

How do you celebrate when the husband leaves, or arms ache for a child they can’t hold, or the bank account sits empty? How do you sing Joy to the World when your world is filled with grief?

I keep searching for the comfort. The metaphor in the midst of the missing. The thing to fill the empty chair. I think I’m supposed to say that Jesus fills the empty chair, fills the empty places in our hearts. But, He doesn’t. If He did then my heart would be overflowing, and it isn’t… it’s aching. Aching for something I can’t have. And as much as I pray and as much as I seek Christ, the empty chair and the empty heart remain.

So does that mean Jesus isn’t enough? No. I don’t think it does. Jesus is enough. He is all we need. But that doesn’t mean He fills every empty place, not that He can’t, just that He doesn’t. Some seasons Jesus allows emptiness to fill our days.

That doesn’t mean He abandons us to our grief… no, He enters in. He enters into our messy, less than, imperfect, empty places and sits with us. Not in the empty chair, but beside us as we face the emptiness. He gives us strength to face the empty places. Strength to accept the reality of the brokenness. Strength to face the injustice of this world we live in. He gives us permission to grieve our loss. Permission to be angry at the unfairness of it all.  Permission to be weak and tired and needy. He doesn’t demand that we pull ourselves together, or put on a brave face, or pretend like everything is just fine when it isn’t.

He is the God who comforts us. Who draws near to our broken hearts. Who binds up our wounds. He’s not afraid of our empty places, even when we are.

The truth is; this Christmas may not be as full as we hoped it would be. This Christmas there might be empty chairs at the table serving as reminders of prayers unanswered. The truth is Christmas isn’t always merry and bright. But if it weren’t for the miracle of Christmas and the baby that came to dwell with us, our empty places would be unbearable. Christmas reminds us that the baby who came to bring peace in the midst of chaos will come again to bring us to dwell with Him where there will never again be places of lack and longing. Until that day, I pray that you (and I) will find Him close and comforting in the empty places of life.

Emmanuel, God with us, come.

Love~

Keri

Hope Deferred

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Waiting sucks. {I’m not quite sure I’m allowed to say “sucks” here but “waiting is hard” didn’t adequately describe how I’m feeling} I hate waiting, and I’m not really good at it. Patience is not my forte.

It seems as if everyone I know is in a holding pattern right now. Waiting on new. Waiting on change. Waiting on someone, something, somewhere. Waiting for doors to open, and others to close. Waiting on pain to end. Waiting on joy to come. Some have been waiting for years, faithfully serving, faithfully trusting, day after long day stacked one upon another until so much time has gone by that you begin to wonder what it is you’re even waiting for anymore. But the heart remembers. In the dark quiet of the night the longing persists. A prayer unanswered. A desire unmet. An ache unfulfilled. Hope deferred.

It’s even harder to wait when the desire is good, godly even. A child. A job. A friend. Pain to cease. Depression to lift. Prodigals to return. We pray and wait and wonder; why would God withhold good gifts from someone who loves Him?

In the last few weeks a verse in Galatians keeps popping up in my life. And let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. I know this is truth. I know I’m not supposed to throw in the towel. I know I’m supposed to continue doing good in my waiting seasons, however long they may be. But sometimes it’s just hard. Harder still when the people around you don’t seem to be waiting for much of anything. I know it’s a matter of perspective. That it’s not true that God’s coming through for everyone except me, but sometimes it feels that way. You too?

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick… Prov. 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. {can I get an amen?} Our human hearts cannot contain the pain of waiting past the point that we deem reasonable. The longer we wait the more our hearts grow weary. Before too long they succumb to despair and desperation. How do we hold on to hope when all of our strength is gone? When our trust has been stretched past the breaking point? When the womb is still empty and the promise seems dead and the God we pray to is strangely quiet?

When the waiting persists it is hope itself that I need to cling to. Hope… not in the thing I long for, but in the God who (for reasons irrational to me) continues to say to me “wait”.

And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You. Psalm 39:7

What am I waiting for? Good things? Yes. Godly things? I think so. But ultimately it is not what I wait for that will satisfy me. Even the most holy thing longed for (a child, or friend, or spouse, or job, or ______) will disappoint us eventually. But there is one thing that will not disappoint…

Hope does not disappoint,

because the love of God has been poured out within our

hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:5

I have been guilty of holding out hope for something less than God. I’ve been guilty of getting mad and cranky when I feel like God is withholding good things from me, when I’m growing weary in my well doing for Him. I’ve been guilty of succumbing to depression and despair when I transferred my hope from the Eternal King to earthly things. This human heart of mine simply can’t contain the pain of waiting and I often find myself in desperate need of rescue. Thankfully, the God I serve specializes in just that. He rescues us because He delights in us. Rescues us from deferred hope.

Hope does not disappoint; if our hope is in Him.

It’s hard to hold on to hope. But what if we weren’t made to hold on to it? What if hope was made to hold on to us? What if hope is the rope thrown to us when we feel like we’re drowning? The rope that we slip our arms through and tighten down around our chest… holding the rope in our hands while the rope holds us in its embrace.

Hope is an embrace. It wraps us up. Holds us tight. And we cling to it in the waiting.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Prov. 13:12 

Praying that our longing for Him outweighs all the other longings of our hearts. And that in the waiting we will find ourselves surrounded by hope.

~Keri